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8 reasons you have underestimated Porto

7 June 2021 - Daily Telegraph

 Perched high above the banks of the Douro River, romantically clad with tiled ochre roofs and ancient cobbled streets, the city of Porto – the setting for this year's UEFA Champions League Final – is rightly a darling of city-break weekenders. Graced with a bustling waterfront packed with wine cellars and pavement cafés, its Unesco-certified virtues are only too obvious.

Guidebooks in hand, visitors justifiably flock to Dom Luis I bridge and Torre dos Clérigos to grab breath-taking panoramic views over Porto’s sloping medieval cityscape and its elegant, sea-ready river. But Porto is liberal with its charms. Wherever you walk, there’s always something to catch your eye or put a skip in your step, from its panoply of baroque churches with their tell-tale azulejo (blue-white tile) facades to the old-school trams puffing up the hills.

Don’t overlook the city’s eponymous port wine. Many a pleasant hour can be lost evaluating the respective qualities of an oak-seasoned Tawny over a fiery, fulsome Ruby. Foodies, meanwhile, will be in seventh heaven at their first forkful of bacalhau à bras (salted cod) or their initiation into the cream-tastic magic that is a freshly made pastel de nata (custard tart). With good reason, the World Travel Awards have named Porto the Best European Destination for the last four consecutive years. Yet beyond its many well-documented attractions, the city has a host of lesser known delights up its sleeve.   

Food

Portuguese food may not enjoy the same reputation as Spanish or Italian cuisine, say, but the country has a burgeoning gastro scene – of which Porto is a driving force. The city’s various Michelin-star restaurants (like Casa de Chá da Boa Nova and the Yeatman) enjoy most of the limelight, but an abundance of old-style tapicerias (tapas-like bars) and hip restaurants also abound.

For a sumptuous sample of what Porto has to offer, head to the burgeoning food-fest that is Rua da Picaria. Even better, book onto a superb gastro tour with the food fanatics at Taste Porto (from €65 for half-day tour, tasteporto.com).

Wine

No-one comes to Porto without trying the wine or visiting one of the city’s famous wine cellars. But how many go home with a real appreciation for the country’s unique terroirs and its rich tradition of viniculture? Enter the World of Wine. Launched last year by the Fladgate Partnership, owner of iconic brands such as Croft, Taylor’s and Fonseca, this new ‘cultural district’ offers an interactive introduction to the places and people behind Portugal’s wine-making history. WOW now also counts a recently inaugurated Wine School, including a two-hour introductory Demystifying Wine workshop (Wine School classes start at €35; wow.pt/wine-school).

Adventure

Laid back and slow-paced, Porto is a city suited more to ambling than adventure. But for those in search of high-octane fun, it is happy to oblige. Assuming you’re okay with heights, then try traversing the Douro River under the 890-foot-wide Arrábida Bridge (the longest concrete-arch bridge at the time of its completion in 1963). Other adrenaline-packed options for thrill seekers include a lurching, turbo-charged speedboat trip along the River Douro or a helicopter flight over the city. Matosinhos beach is also awash with surf schools for those keen to catch a wave (note: the ocean is freezing, but wetsuits are provided). Porto Bridge Climb costs €17.50; portobridgeclimb.com.

Books

Booklover or not, no visit to Porto is complete without a trip to Livraria Lello, the wood-panelled shrine to all things bookish. To search out some of its more overlooked cousins, however, head to the Cedofeita neighbourhood, where you’ll find independent bookstores lining up cheek and jowl. Highlights include the stylishly decorated Gostar de Ler, the scholarly Livraria Académica, the magazine mecca Timtim Por Timtim, the versifying Poetria, and the sunlit Paraíso do Livro. The newest on the list is Térmita, a quirky new offering from the popular Café Candelabro bar. In addition to its fantastically eclectic selection of second-hand books, there’s also a wine shop and exhibition space to browse (Térmita, Largo de Mompilher 5, open 4pm-9pm, Mon-Fri).

Coastline

Porto’s historic centre acts like a magnet, sucking visitors into its maze of colourful shops and alluring side streets. But if you can escape its pull, then jump on a bus (No. 500) or grab a taxi and head out to the coast. The sight of crashing waves and blast of sea air make for an invigorating shift in tempo from the tranquil vibe along the riverfront. With a view out over the Atlantic, the upmarket Foz district (literally, river ‘mouth’) boasts a fantastic lighthouse and colonial fort, as well as a glut of terrific restaurants. For a selection of Porto’s famous pastries, call in on confeitaria Tavi, a popular neighbourhood classic (Rua da Senhora da Luz 363; tavi.pt).

Metro

Three conventional ways exist for visitors to get around Porto: the classic (electric tram), the convenient (hop-on hop-off tour bus, either Yellow Bus or Porto Sightseeing), and the energetic (on foot). But there’s an oft-missed fourth option, the metro. Clean, cheap, and efficient, the Metro do Porto counts six main lines, all of which connect through a central hub at Trinidade. The above-ground rail system is a great way to nip between downtown neighbourhoods as well as travel out to nearby coastal municipalities like Matosinhos, Vila do Conde, and Póvoa de Varzim (a multi-journey day pass for Zones 2-4 costs €6.90; metrodoporto.pt).

Museums

Porto may lack the power or panache of Lisbon’s museum scene, but, relative to its comparatively diminutive size, the city still punches well above its weight. In the Museu da Misericórdia and the Fundação de Serralves, for example, it can lay claim to two top-notch art museums (the former currently has a major exhibition of the work of the recently deceased, German fashion photographer, Peter Lindbergh). But it’s the lesser-known museums that really throw light on Porto’s quirkier character, like the Banco de Materias (dedicated to tiles), the Museo da Farmácia (pharmacy), and the Museu das Marionetas (puppets). For kids, the World of Discoveries, Sea Life, and the Natural History Museum are all winners (museudacidadeporto.pt).

Running

The steep streets of Porto’s historic centre might make the prospect of jogging sound like suicide. Yet, once you hit the river, there are miles of gorgeous riverside paths just waiting for your falling footsteps. For a good leg-stretch, head west towards Foz and the ocean (6.5km) or cross the river via Dom Luis I bridge and enjoy the majestic views back over historic Porto. If you’re unsure about heading out alone, try Porto Running Tours. As well as ensuring you don’t get lost, their knowledgeable guides offer a steady drip of fascinating snippets about the city’s past and present (tours cost €30; portorunningtours.com).

Source: Daily Telegraph

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